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Sihanoukville sees its tourist star rising

Foreign tourists relax on a beach in Sihanoukville.
Foreign tourists relax on a beach in Sihanoukville. Heng Chivoan

Sihanoukville sees its tourist star rising

The latest provincial tourism figures show efforts to establish Sihanoukville as a premiere beach destination may be paying off, with more tourists flocking to the coastal city than ever before.

Tourist arrivals increased nearly 17 per cent during the first half of the year, topping 1 million visits, according to Im Chantha, deputy director of Preah Sihanouk province’s tourism department.

“Tourism is generally flourishing because there are more transportation conveniences for visitors, including more options by air, boat and road,” she said yesterday.

According to Chantha, Sihanoukville has in recent years cleaned up its act, shedding its reputation as a seedy backpacker haunt with poor infrastructure and rampant crime. The city has transformed with an increasing array of upscale accommodation, better infrastructure and a host of city beautification projects.

“Provincial authorities took more action to promote the tourism sector, such as installing street lights, sidewalks, gardens and better utilities, to make it more convenient for tourists to go out 24 hours a day or relax at the beach,” she said.

Moreover, the crimes that most concern tourists – such as snatch-and-grab robberies, are down substantially since a new provincial police chief took over in April 2015, she added.

According to Chantha, Chinese tourists led the pack among foreign tourist arrivals during the first half of 2016 with a 14.3 per cent year-on-year increase, followed by modest rises in the number of Russian and Vietnamese tourists.

The coastal city’s increased air connections – including new international flights to China and Vietnam – did not appear to be driving the growth of inbound tourism. In fact, data from the city’s airport showed total arrivals slightly down during the first semester, with 302 flights bringing in 21,525 passengers, a 0.46 per cent year-on-year decline.

Instead, an increasing number of foreign tourists arrived by sea, with 29 cruise ships bringing in some 33,000 passengers during the first six months of the year – 66 per cent more passenger traffic than during the same period in 2015.

However, the total number of foreign tourists visiting Sihanoukville increased by only 3.1 per cent during the first six months of the year, totalling 223,000. A far bigger impact was felt by the flood of domestic tourists, with 810,000 Cambodians visiting during the first half of 2016, a 21 per cent year-on-year increase.

“The number of domestic tourists is higher than foreigners because we have a lot of national holidays here and Cambodians like to enjoy and relax at the beach,” Chantha said.

Thourn Sinaa, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), said Sihanoukville was enjoying a brighter spot on the tourist map.

“However, the government should pay more attention to keeping the city clean, and watch the prices of food and accommodation, which are continually increasing and could change the mood of visitors and spoil this vacation destination,” he said.

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